WAPELLA METHODIST CHURCH (Central Illinois Conference) 1957-1959
Details of this experience can be found elsewhere. The church was very difficult, as they had voted to become Baptist, but remained Methodist when they discovered they didn’t own the building. A college professor recruited me to do pastoral calling and youth work the first year (not under appointment), predicting, correctly, that in one year they would ask for me to be the pastor. He was correct and they did.
The next year I was actually appointed as the pastor (1958-1959). I had a choice betwee coasting or working very hard. I worked very hard: 900 pastoral calls in one year, working very part time.
ST. JAMES METHODIST CHURCH, DANVILLE, ILLINOIS (1959-1962)
My title was Minister to Youth and my employment covered my time at Garrett Biblical Institute (now Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary). I worked with Senior Pastor Dr. Paul Curry and Associate Pastor Leonard Sutton. It was a wonderful experience. I didn’t have to work with the Official Board (governing committee) and there were 100 active youth in the programs of the church. I learned lots. Dr. Curry allowed me to preach many times and my youth honored me in the last year by arranging for me to speak at the graduation baccalaureate.
MOOSE PASS CIRCUIT (Alaska) Summer 1961
St. James allowed me to spend the summer of 1961 in Alaska as a summer furlough replacement for Benjamin Laird. There were four groups and three churches: on Sunday I had a service at Moose Pass; on Monday I had a service at Girdwood; on Tuesday I met in a house church at Cooper Landing at the south end of Kenai Lake; finishing on Wednesday at Hope. Often I would stay in Hope for a day or two, organizing repairs and upgrades on the 1944 log building there. Hope became a favorite place over the years, as the church eventually became a retreat center. This is also covered in more detail elsewhere. I was also expected to be a volunteer at Birchwood Camp, which took two weeks out of my summer.
MY NOTES: Ben Blastus Obolla (African student sponsored by Methodist Men), Construction of Tustumena Chuch; Kenai-Soldotna Conflict; David Cooper story; Calvin Fair Family; Military Fire; Earthquake reflections; Soldotna Progress Days (Horse B.I.N.G.O.); Clam Feeds; Ministerial Association
When I was asked to return to Alaska full-time, I was slated to be the Associate Pastor at Ketchikan. However, I fell in love and Barbara Dadd Shaffer not only agreed to marry me, but also to return to Alaska with me. St. James had offered me a full-time job as Minister of Evangelism, but I decided to go to Alaska for three years. The plan was to return after three years and Barbara would have completed her seminary degree. That never happened.
The Superintendent changed my appointment to the Kenai Parish (two for the price of one?) and the rest is history, so to speak. Without going into great details, four families in the Kenai Church had been very close to the former pastor, sharing baby-sitting and more. They were not able to adjust to this particular change for many reasons. Our first year at Kenai was very difficult. Life was wonderful in the other two churches, so that helped.
We drove 100 miles each Sunday, doing three worship services and three chuch schools. In three years, we put 100,000 miles on the Rambler provided by the Board of Missions. In fact, we picked the car up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and drove it from Illinois to Seattle. A honeymoon paid for by the General Board of Missions. Thank you very much.
The United Methodist Men of the parish were very active. It involved about thirty men. They decided to sponsor a student from Kenya for his senior year of high school. This was expanded to include a college degree at Alaska Methodist University. So Ben Blastus Oballa of Kenya was brought to Alaska by United Methodist Men for his Senior year of High School. Because of racist issues, he had to attend the prom by himself. After graduation, he attended and graduated from Alaska Methodist University. When we visited Kenya in 1971 we made arrangements to visit with him in Nairobi. His dream of being a leader in his country did not materialize because of tribal tensions. He worked for a multi-national company and died much too young.
Highlights included programs for the Parish United Methodist Men. This included participating in a Men’s Conference in Anchorage that attracted national figures such as Jackie Robinson of baseball fame, Episcopal Bishop James Pike and Quaker Elton Trueblood. Our parish meetings attracted as many as 30 men for a dinner and program.
One time Alaska Methodist University professor Dr. Richard Gay came to speak to the group and at a meal in our home, he noted I was reading a book. He noted I had underlined one paragraph and he asked why. I didn’t have a clue and he quoted the paragraph from memory. I still didn’t have a clue. Impressive display of photographic memory.
We coordinated the construction of the Tustumena Church. It was built on pilings right next to the Tustumena School, half-way between Kenai and Ninilchik. Prior to that we met in homes or a quonset hut at Clam Gulch. Six very faithful families.
There was a serious conflict between Kenai and Soldotna. Each wanted to dominant the area economically. Kenai was several miles from the main highway from Anchorage to Homer, but every time there was new activities, there was a political fight. When new area-wide government was created (called a borough), Soldotna got the offices. After all of the bitter conflict, Soldotna got most of the items: Kenai Peninsula College, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District offices and the Central Peninsula Hospital is in Soldotna. Fighting produced a win-lose scenario. We will never know what cooperation might have accomplishd. One of my successors at Kenai was so afraid of the anger in Kenai that they had their baby delivered in an Anchorage hospital, 160 road miles away, and not in the Soldotna hospital, 10 miles away. When I was there, I even had the nerve or gall to preach on the issue one Sunday. Little feedback, so I don’t know what it accomplished. Probably the folks from Soldotna loved it and the folks from Kenai endured it. It didn’t change any attitudes or behaviors, based on subsequent history.
While I was there, Dr. Paul Isaak started the process and invited the Mayor of Kenai, Bud Dye, to be on the Board of Directors. Agreeing to do this proved to be too hot for Mayor Dye, so he resigned. I was then asked to serve on the Board, representing Kenai. I left town shortly thereafter, but I don’t think there was any causitive connection. Who knows? The reality is that appointments tended to be for 3 years then and I left after 3 years. But five families were probably glad to see me go.
I was not afraid to stand up to bullies (and there were one or two in the Kenai congregation), so who knows what goes on behind the scenes. Except for the gambling issue in Soldotna, I did a great deal to grease the skids for the formation of the Soldotna Methodist Church, the Central Peninsula Hospital and much more. At his direction, I assisted Mission Superintendent Meredith Groves in purchasing land for a future Soldotna parsonage and church north of the Spur area. This work did not require the consent of the Kenai Church. As of 2017, the Kenai Church has 69 members and the Soldotna Church has 75 members. The average attendance at Kenai was 37 and the average at Soldotna was 47.
Even now, there would probably be resistance to the idea of sharing the same pastor. I do not follow such things closely.
On November 1, 1964, I preached a sermon titled “Anti-Communism and American Freedom”. At the next Official Board meeting, a constituent of the congregation came to protest my sermon. In the course of the meeting, he asked if he could request equal time to correct the damage I had done. After a pause, I said “Yes”. Eventually he realized I had just answered his question. So he then said: “May I have equal time?” And I said “No”. I softened it by offering him one page in a church newsletter to state his case, but he refused. He was not a person to be brief, which was only one of many reason I didn’t offer him the pulpit. Fun times.
Now to share the David Cooper Jr. of Ninilchik story. He was a Junior in High School. Due to conflict with his father, David Cooper Sr, he came to live with us for awhile, but after a few weeks with us, he realized that home was not so bad. I attempted to run a tight ship. He had just started to notice girls and after several years of running free, he didn’t like restrictions from his father or from me. After resisting sharing where he was going with friends, I insisted that he at least tell me what direction he was going, to aid me in looking for his body, if he should not return home sometime.
Calvin and Jane Fair drove many miles to church, even in difficult weather. Another family won’t walk one block in the same weather.
There was a fatal fire on the Wildwood Military Base. I provided pastoral care and walked with a distraught father while he dealt with his grief over the loss of his children. He was very angry with God and I was concerned about potential suicide, so I walked with him in some very cold weather for a period of time. Mostly I listened. It was not the time to tell him that God was not responsible for the death of his children. He had broken base rules at leaving underage children untended while he and his wife were “enjoying” themselves at a drinking establishment. I was called by the base commander because the chaplain was not available.
We also dealt with the aftermath of the Great Earthquake of 1964. It registered 9.2 on the Recter Scale. We lost $.67 worth of stuff, but I held the doors of cabinets to save our new china. Over 100 people died in the entire State of Alaska and I had the difficult task of conducting a funeral for five members of one family who disappeared at Whittier. It was very complicated, even more so because no bodies were ever found after the tidal wave hit.
When we arrived in 1962, there was tension with a few Kenai families who were unhappy losing the former pastor. It was “trial by fire” for a newly married couple. My predecessor did not do pastoral calling, but when he agreed to stay for a few more weeks while Barbara and I got married and traveled to Kenai, he and his wife called on many people. She cried and they communicated that they didn’t really want to leave. It did not make for a good situation for us.
One Sunday at Tustumena, a man named Mr. Miller was angry at something he heard in my sermon. At the Adult Sunday School class everyone told him that I had not said what he thought he heard. He backed off, but he was still very angry.
Mission Executive Allen Rice was driven from Kenai to Seward by Barbara on icy roads. Some one had not tighten the lug nuts on a tire, but Barbara stopped at a service station in Soldotna and they fixed it.
One summer I blew the whistle on an illegal gambling scheme for the Soldotna Progress Days. Using B.I.N.G.O. cards, there was to be gambling on horse racing. The promoters cancelled the entire fair and blamed me for their decision.
Near the end of our stay, there was a major fire at a hotel under construction one block from our home. Because of our bedroom location and no windows on the north side of the house, we slept right through it.
Ninilchik United Methodist Church sponsored a razor clam feed as a fundraiser. Barbara was assigned the job of making six pies. She learned to make wonderful pies.
I attempted to create a Ministerial Association with fifteen members. When I invited the Catholic priest to attend (after Vatican II), some ministers objected. The Assembly of God pastor came to me afterwards and shared that being in the same room with a priest praying put a pain in his stomach. We were left with only five members in the group.
Barbara and I were willing to stay in Alaska, so I asked the Bishop if he wanted us to stay and he indicated that he did. He couldn’t understand why so many pastors left after three years. Problem: there was no communication on that particular subject. I learned to be pro-active with such issues. Others did not. Being pro-active served me well several times.
UNITED METHODIST CHURCH OF CHUGIAK AND BIRCHWOOD CAMP
MY NOTES: Camp-Lost Children episode (Lori Staats); Abused 12 year old from Kansas and Seward; Trash event with Loren Rodebush; Fish experience. Church-Built new sanctuary; O.W. Lowe Sr. episode; hikes to Eklutna Glacier; Cross Event and working with Community Action Agency (Johnson’s War on Poverty).
Accomplishment: Changing name so the focus was on the United Methodist Church and not on the physical location, as we attempted to attract people from Eagle River, Birchwood, Chugiak and Peter’s Creek. Name stuck. Don’t know if it worked. We decided not to start an United Methodist Church in Eagle River and the Presbyterians came instead. Opportunity missed, in my opinion.
Lost children episode: One time I was told to pick up two Fairbanks children at the Birchwood Crossing. I assumed that was the crossing near our camp, but was supposed to be a crossing several miles away near the Birchwood Airport. No one met the children, so naturally they told their parents and he never forgave me. Lori Staats was one of those children. A Good Samaritan picked them up and brought them to safety.
In 1961 there was an abused child who came to camp from Seward. He was 12 years old and his back was scarred. He had ran away from his home in Kansas and ended up in Seward. When other campers teased him, he took a stick of wood and hit another boy over the head and then ran away from camp. By some miracle I found him and prevented the boy who had been hit from taking revenge.
Being responsible for the railroad crossing, I put up a barrier, which a nearby neighbor resented. He would knock down what I put up. Finally I got something stronger than his truck and was able to identify him from the paint on the pipe. He was a very violent man who made his children steal from his neighbors and then he would threaten the neighbors when they objected. Being very brave (not), I never interacted with him directly. When one of his older children was arrested for armed robbery of a lumber yard in Anchorage, he disowned his son (for getting caught??). When I visited that son in jail, he was very sad.
Some one was dumping trash on the camp road. I went through the trash very carefully and discovered from whence it came. Since it was not from the violent man, I decided to confront the culprit. I took along Loren Rodebush, our camp caretaker, who was very big & wearing his military uniform. When I got to the home, there was a party. I knocked and the owner denied all responsibility for the crime. With Loren at my back, I said I wasn’t there to determine guilt, but I merely wanted to know whether or not he wanted me to place the garbage in his garbage can or if he wanted me to leave it in his yard, like he did on our camp road. He chose his garbage can. End of dumping. I was very brave with Loren standing behind and above me.
While at Chugiak, we built a new sanctuary. Lay members Harold Abrams (in charge of new construction for all of the military bases in Alaska) and Stan Nickerson provided tremendous lay leadership for the project. Harold Abrams would stop each evening to check on progress on his way home from his Civil Service job. Wonderful people.
The architect (to save money) had gotten beams that were a bit rough and he wished to stain them a light green. One member (O. W. Lowe, Jr.) thought this was a terrible idea. When he could not convince anyone else, he lost his temper, announced he would never attend the church again and stormed out of the meeting. Later I went to his home and told him that he was a valued person. This took until the wee hours of the morning. He stayed. Several years later (at least 30 years) he and his second wife visited us in Spokane, Washington. He could hardly contain himself until he informed me that the beams had been sanded and they were now their natural color. He finally got his own way.
While picking on O. W. Lowe, Jr., he could get a whole chapter by himself. Every year he went on an extensive moose hunt that involved floating down a river. The year his wife was very ill (she did die), the church took up a cash love offering so he could do a fly-in and get his moose in one day. I was dispatched to give him the gift. He became very angry and rejected the gift. He was very independent and self-sufficient and did not need charity. I returned to my home and then I became very irritated, if not angry. I was faced with having to return all the cash gifts. So I went back to his home and told him that he owned it to his friends to take the gift in the spirit they were giving it. He very quietly accepted my argument and took the money and had his one day hunt.
When the new church was built (over built), I tried to use ropes to encourage (force) people to sit closer to the front. Bill came into the space, ripped down the ropes and said some strong words. Turns out that in his childhood, someone had tried to control where people sat in a New England Church, so it wasn’t going to happen in “his” church. Perhaps out of guilt (who knows), one Sunday he encouraged everyone to sit on the front rows. When I entered from the side door, I pretended to be very shocked. Lots of laughter. It never happened again.
We often drove to the end of Lake Eklutna and hiked to Eklutna Glacier. However, it became too dangerous. After the 1964 earthquake, when land shifted, small rock projectiles would come crashing off the surrounding mountains. One time I allowed some children to play on the glacier and frozen river. Two weeks later I returned and the cave where they had played was now a roaring stream of water. We never returned.
A young man came to our church and offered to build a cross. He also built one at St. John. I found a spot below the church where the cross could be built and we held a few services there.
I decided to buy a fish net and hire some Eskimo friends to fish across Knik Arm with them getting 1/2 of the catch and me getting 1/2 the catch. I provided the money and they provided the labor. The first year the power went off at the camp and the fish spoiled. The second year, thieves took all the fish. That was when we realized we need a camp caretaker and hired Loren and Julia Rodebush for that position. But I didn’t try to get fish again.
While at Chugiak I got involved in the programs related to President Johnson’s War on Poverty and became President of the Greater Anchorage Community Action Agency. It was a very interesting experience. One very pushy member was trying to get me to recognize me and he stood on his chair. I still ignored him.
This gave me some name recognition. So when a member of the John Birch Society was getting name recognition and doing better in each election, I decided to run against him for the State House of Representatives. With the permission of an interim Bishop, I had plans “in case I got elected”. I didn’t, but I was able to derail the efforts of the John Birch Society member. In the 1966 election, he had made it through the primary. In 1968, he did not. I ran 35th out of 49 candidates for 28 positions on the final ballot. Fourteen to be elected. But I ran 3rd in the Eagle River-Chugiak area when we lived. Who knows what might have happened if I had run again in 1970, but we will never know. I was transferred to Juneau as a pastor.
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS LARGER PARISH
When I was appointed to both Juneau and Douglas in my second year, there was some pressure for us to move to the Douglas parsonage. We refused. So the Douglas parsonage was rented. One Coast Guard family rented it for awhile. One day the father indicated to me that there was no heat in the 2nd floor of the parsonage. On cold nights, his children had to camp (sleep) in the living room. At least one of the trustees implied that this was impossible. None of the former pastors had complained. So I checked with several former pastors and all verified they had had that problem with their children. But did they ever tell anyone? No. Perhaps they didn’t want to deal with the hostility of some of the trustees. For whatever reason, I didn’t have that concern. They were already hostile for one reason or another. The problem was corrected.
There was consistent hostility from some members at Douglas, so it almost became humorous. Business meetings were not pleasant experiences. But we all survived in the end. Two families were very supportive and helped me navigate the situation.
While in Juneau, I became a leader of the anti-war movement. I was not radical enough for the radicals in the peace movement, but any participation was too much for the other side, so it was a wild ride. It was interesting that I had 100% support from many members of the older generation. At one point, some members of that group wanted to block the Egan Expressway at rush hour as a protest against the war. I objected and since I would lead the action, it never happened. But I was rejected by many members and I resigned from my position of leadership. So for awhile, both extremes were angry with me.
In 1971 Barbara and I took a seven week trip to Africa and the Holy Land. Seven laypersons (men) filled the pulpit, most talking about the balance between evangelism and social action. Attendance was high during my absence.
While we were traveling, plans were made for sponsoring a Lay Witness Mission. When I left, there were plans to have two of them: one in Douglas and one in Juneau. When I returned, they had decided to have them together, alternating locations. When I reminded them that they had voted to be separate, one woman said that the Holy Spirit prevailed over the vote and indeed it did.
During the Lay Witness Mission, one speaker asked us to imagine that the rock in his hand was God and we were to pick up the rock and share our reaction. Eventually one man took the rock, announced that the rock was not God and slammed it on the altar table and stomped out of the church. Later in the evening, I made a pastoral call and told him of my disappointment in his actions. He repented and life went on.
Some of the liberals in the Juneau Church boycotted the Lay Witness Mission worship services and then called me to a gathering which was considering leaving the church. They asked me “what happened”? I told them about some of the positive changes in people and when I was finished, the group quietly disbanded without any further discussion.
We enjoyed a spirit of cooperation between the two congregations for a brief period of time, but the decision of the State of Alaska to take the Juneau Church property soon ended that spirit.
I inherited the Juneau Youth Hostel when I came to Juneau (it was in its second year when I arrived), but I spent a lot of energy defending it from critics. I even grew my beard longer to offset the nasty comments the police chief and others made about bearded hippies. At some point there was a drug raid that included the hostel, but of the 19 people arrested, none were at the youth hostel. I got into a war of words with the District Attorney, but I got a promise from the Chief of Police that they would behave better in the future.
In the midst of all of this (our church was never locked) a rape occurred in the church sanctuary, so there was a lot going on. I monitored the trial. When the victim (who had been flirtatious and drinking) learned what the prison sentence would be, she refused to cooperate. As the young man left the courtroom a free man, I had a few choice words with him and a few accused me of finding him guilty. Well, he was guilty and he put the youth hostel at great risk. What I did with the young man was give him some hotel money and request that he not step foot on our property again, unless it was to attend a worship service. He didn’t.
When we took steps to finally lock our church at night, we couldn’t find the key. As we shut down the church property and turned it over to the State of Alaska, it was important to secure the building. On at least one occasion, I allowed a homeless man live in the church for a few weeks. He was very responsible and helpful, for which I was and am grateful.
The State of Alaska took our property by right of imminent domain to build a courthouse and we lost our church. The decision was made to merge with Northern Light Presbyterian to form the Northern Light United Church. Barbara and I returned for the 40th anniversary of that church and found it to be thriving.
But the experience destroyed all the warm fuzzies from the Lay Witness Mission. The Juneau Church was divided, voting to merge with the Presbyterians by a very narrow margin. In fact, my vote decided the issue. I came very close to a nervous breakdown (depression?), but whatever happened, I was dysfunctional for one week after the vote.
But then I kicked into a gear that made it all happen. Two women at Douglas became very vicous, but they were unsuccessful at changing anything. They wanted access to some of the money Juneau received from the forced sale of the property. Juneau had been offered $120,000 for the property. The trial produced an increase to $180,000 and the state had to pay our $30,000 lawyer cost.
The lawyer for the State of Alaska thought he had some inside information from one of the United Methodist church members and he called me a liar when I was on the witness stand. This made the judge upset, plus I had a letter in my pocket from the Governor of the State of Alaska that proved I had told the truth on the witness stand. It was a good day. One could speculate as to why I had that letter in my suit pocket, but I was glad it was there.
One of the things I learned at Douglas was that new ideas needed to percolate for at least one month. Some of the program ideas didn’t happen until after I left – like having some concern for the lower income families in our community.
Separate from all issues was the sponsorship of the Juneau Youth Hostel. It was housed in the Methodist Church and it was switched to the new united church, but it was a source of much heart-burn for the Presbyterians. They believed some of the mis-information that had been published in the local newspaper. Many believed that arrests had been made at the hostel during the drug raid. Even though the newspaper wrote a clarifying article, some chose to belief the mis-information. People are sometimes funny in a strange sort of way.
Some one at the Board of Global Ministries office in New York City made a claim for the $180,000 unless we reinvested it in Juneau property. Within a short period of time, we purchased the Whitehead House (one of the better homes in the downtown area). I had some thought of it being a parsonage, but that didn’t happen. It was a Teen Home for awhile and eventually it was sold to the American Youth Hostel group in Juneau and it continues as a Youth Hostel to this day (2020). Sadly, the fire marshall made us tear out the cedar that lined the closets.
When Northern Light Presbyterian Church and Juneau United Methodist Church merged, I lobbied for the new name to be Northern Light United Church, which made the Presbyterians so happy that they offered to pray the Lord’s Prayer the Methodist way. It became obvious that both pastors needed to move on, so that new and fresh leadership could be found. I accepted this decision, but the Presbyterian pastor fought it. That didn’t make the transition very pleasant, but it happened.
One of my tasks, while in Juneau, was providing leadership for the S.E. Alaska Camp, which was called the Argetsinger Camp on my watch. Lots of physical energy was spent keeping it maintained. With the help of a wonderful young adult named Ladd Macaulay, we were able to turn the camp over to the school district for their Outdoor Education Program, operated by Ladd Macaulay. Again, several persons objected, but it happened. One of the first things the school district did was upgrade the kitchen at significant cost (Memory $100,000) After a year or so, the School District decided to punish the voters (who rejected a bond issue) by shutting down their two most popular programs. This was pre-school and outdoor education. The camp came back to the Methodists. No one ever thanked me for the brand new kitchen.
COMMUNITY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, NOME, ALASKA (1974-1981) NOME PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (1975-1981) (together) AYWAAN BERING SEA LARGER PARISH, along with Savoonga Presbyterian Church and Gambell Presbyterian Church with both on St. Lawrence Island.
This is dealt with elsewhere, but we were there for seven years. Both of us were very busy, but Barbara was even busier. She had many positions while we were in Nome: Executive Director, Nome Community Center (half a year): Special Assistant to the Governor for NW Alaska (2 1/2 years) and Member of the Nome Common Council (City Council) (3 years).
EAST ANCHORAGE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH (1981-1988)
When it was time for us to leave Nome, there was only one opening and we received it: East Anchorage United Methodist Church. It was next door to the Chugiak-Eagle River Parish, but separated by a military base. I decided not to be a public advocate for much of anything, so it was a quiet seven years, for the most part.
I would try to have a creative sermon at least once a year and it always stirred things up. During my seven years there, I had a sermon on Capital Punishment and South Africa. One woman asked for a “hearing” on my preaching. Only ten people showed up, but she found out that most people appreciated the stimulation of such sermons, rare as they might be. It was obvious that a few wanted zero stimulation. By this time in my ministry, I was able to convince many that I was open to listening to their points of view and this served me well.
I tried very hard to make the church grow and failed. There was a very large trailer court near by and during my time there, one family tried our church. I attempted to open up a dead-end street south of our church and came under attack from neighbors who liked their semi-private road. I learned that some participants liked a small church, so they resisted the idea of growth. The church had an average worship attendance of 100 when I was there. When the church celebrated its 50th anniversary, the bishop came and shared in closing the church. Attendance had dropped to 25 or so.
I volunteered to “take care of” the Hope Retreat Center and spent many pleasant days there. My members thought I was working and all was well.
After seven years at East Anchorage, I applied for a Charles Merrill Fellowship at Harvard and was accepted. Meanwhile, there was a crisis at a church in Sitka and I was transferred there in 1988.
UNITED METHODIST CHURCH OF SITKA 1988-1995
Barbara was at General Conference with her work with General Council on Finance and Administration (two 4 year terms) and I was helping Gania Trotter staff a hospitality room for Alaska Pacific University. One day the District Superintendent called me. We knew what was coming and agreed to accept the appointment to Sitka.
The couple at Sitka had a marital crisis and the Bishop wanted us to provide some stability for the congregation as they weathered the storm. It was much more difficult than I could ever have imagined. I had studied the issue of transference in psychology. We experienced it. Imagine going to a new congregation and saying “Oh, by the way, we are taking three months off in our first year for continuing education at Harvard.” We got through it all and some healing eventually came for members and the church.
When we returned from our sabbatical, we started Disciple Bible Study.
I was asked to assist Sheldon Jackson College by teaching World Religions for two quarters. I got rave reviews. It may have helped that all students (except for one) got A’s and B’s. Don’t know where I got the idea, but on the first day, I passed out a copy of the final exam.
We enjoyed a new sanctuary that had been built by the members.
After seven happy years there, we felt it was time to leave Alaska. Ketchikan wanted a younger pastor and I was no longer young. Hostile administrators were not going to do me any favors.
I asked the Bishop if there might be a place for me in the Pacific Northwest Conference and he assured me that he would find a place. He was true to his word.
MANITO UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, SPOKANE, WASHINGTON
MY NOTES: Snow storm; ice storm, history relating to Kirtland Cutter, AHA!!!!, Squirrels, Pigeons and 15 tons & what do you get? – 5 foot clearance for storage.
This was a wonderful appointment for us. They thought I was young. The superintendent had told them I was old. When I discovered the she was the same age as myself, I never let her forget it. I showed up for the interview with three guns, storing them at her house. Just for the record, I no longer own the guns.
The sanctuary had been designed by famed architect Kirtland Cutter. It was his last job in Spokane, but he built many mansions on the south hill.
The Christian Education wing was massive and very good for community service. Pre-school, counseling service and emergency housing all were or became part of our service to the community. My plan was to stay there seven years and retire, but I changed my mind and asked for another appointment, which I received. The helpful bishop was elsewhere and the cabinet was not in the mood to do me any favors. I was moved immediately.
Not really a highlight, but as soon as I arrived, I was hit by the church’s decision to remove the American Flag from the sanctuary. A military veteran wanted me to return it to the sanctuary. Since it was a decision of the Administrative Council, I refused to do so.
While at Manito, I was able to go to a sermon resource conference in Canada that published AHA!!! It was very stimulated and impacts my preaching.
I had a battle with resident squirrels at the parsonage, so I trapped them and transported them to a welcoming forest 25 miles away, until the owner said: “Enough!” The issue at the church were pigeons in the tower, so that was corrected with some screening.
At some point, some walls had been knocked down and the gym floor was raised to ground level for the fellowship hall. Underneath the fellowship hall, in a five foot crawl space. So I removed fifteen tons of debris (with some help on one occasion from members of Americorp) and produced a five foot clearance area for storage. I did this for exercise on my “days off”.
One of my favorite memories was the day of the “big snow” when it snowed many inches during worship. With my Toyota truck, I was able to pull cars out of the school parking lot effectively.
Another storm put so much ice in the trees that many broke off 1/3 of the way from the top. Quite a sight to behold.
One of the stronger programs at Manito was known as “Elderberries”, an older adult group that planned regular activities. Completely led by others, it was refreshing to be able to participate as a member and not the leaders. It was also when I learned that the next crop of retirees objected to words that reminded them of the aging process. So “elder” was a turn-off and the same thing was true at the next church (Stanwood) where the word “silver” in “Silver Sages” turned off some potential participants. Never solved that problem.
I was having so much fun, I decided not to retire in 2002 and made myself available for one more appointment. This was arranged by the “cabinet” in just a few weeks. So quickly, that the “cabinet” failed to appoint my replacement for one full year. The first two suggested appointments (female) turned them down. If forgiveness is in order for the person or persons responsible, that has not happened yet. It was obvious that some members had an agenda that didn’t have much regard for my well-being nor the well-being of the local church.
STANWOOD UNITED METHODIST CHURCH (2000-2008)
MY NOTES: At the beginning, issue of inclusion and at the end, issue of human sexuality; during highlights included the 5th Thursday trips and the addition of stained glass.
Having said that I would not accept a smaller church, the cabinet found a church with equal membership to Manito. Both Manito and Stanwood had 400 members. When I went for the introduction, the superintendent had no knowledge of my past background, so I quickly supplied some information.
The church was very welcoming and our eight years there were pleasant and productive, after the first year. Three very conservative families did not appreciate my theology or social stances. The lay leader “hated” the United Methodist Church. He had served for eight years. My pattern was to ask persons to serve in top leadership posts for two years. When he was removed, the skids were greased for them leaving the church and becoming Free Methodists.
One family provided heavy financial support for James Dobson’s organization known as “Focus on the Family”. There was an attempt to “fire me”, but when that failed they left the church. One of the themes of my early preaching in Stanwood was the important of “inclusion”.
A fourth family stayed. Dr. Ed Blair had been my New Testament professor at Garrett and he was satisfied with the content of my preaching. During my time at Stanwood, I helped celebrate the life of his wife, Vivien. He put some pressure on me to “come back” and do his service when he died, but I resisted. When I came as his pastor, he could barely remember me as a student, but by the time I left I was “one of his better students”. He was a wonderful person. It was a pleasure being his pastor for eight years. I helped his intensive library end up at Seattle University.
While serving as the pastor at Stanwood, we had to put on a new roof. I lobbied for “red”, as lots of people didn’t know we existed. But I failed, so lots of people still don’t know the church exists.
One humorous member on the “color” committee for something at the church suggested that they send me a telegram in Hawaii: (containing this message) “We couldn’t decide on the color, so you must decide.” I had made it clear that “colors” had been the “bane” of my existence at several churches. Elsewhere I have shared about the beams at the UMC of Chugiak in Alaska plus there was a big fight about this at Juneau.
That and “worship wars” are not missed by me, now that I am retired.
When we went to Stanwood, there was a van that was not being used. So I created a program called “5th Thursdays”. It was essentially a field trip “somewhere” four times a year. It was wonderful for some of the retired members and it forced me to do something creative four times a year. We did some major field trips to Victoria B.C., Cannon Beach in Oregon, Leavenworth and a play in Vancouver B.C. Others were small things such as visting a Kangaroo Farm near Arlington or a buffalo farm near Sedro Woolley. If anyone ever expresses an interest, I could probably summarize the 32 things we did in our 8 years at Stanwood. But first I would have to find my lists. During my ministry, we were given a small bus that we shared with Josephine. They kept it running and we got to use it occasionally.
Another highlight was the addition of stained glass windows. One Sunday while preaching on the value of symbols, it was obvious we didn’t have many, so Chris and Pam Fredericksen arranged for a famous artist (Jack Archibald) to do a window at the entrance of the church. It was titled “Immanence”. It featured an abstract design on either side of the church entry with bold colors radiating out from a circle. Jack agreed to share some reflection on his work: “I had an old friend, long gone now, who said, ‘For those who ask no questions, there are no mysteries,’…I think what my friend meant was that life isn’t a riddle, it’s more like music…Immanance is that force, that energy, that spirit, that goodness, that whatever name you want to call it that permeates the world…These windows are small grace notes in the music I hear in a world I do not at all understand. I hope, given their context, they make a joyful noise.” It was a great honor to have Jack share his talents at “breaking glass” with us in this way.
This modern art upset an artist in the church, Jo Hagloch, so she set out to create some realistic art. She trained seventeen people in the process and we had three beautiful windows in the fellowship hall celebrating blue herons, snow geese and eagles. When I saw her eagle design, I objected and risked telling her that I wanted an eagle that looked like an eagle, not one mostly in white. By some miracle, she agreed with me. The result added a great deal of beauty to our fellowship/worship area.
A member of Rotary (Lew Neelds) did two windows celebrating our early building and our current building. This was paid for by Kert and Norma Lee Kertson.
Finally a member (Bob) commissioned a window in memory of his wife, by an Everett studio (Covenant Art Glass) that celebrated rhododendrons. A major addition to the spirit of the church without any budgetary implications.
We also spent some energy on human sexuality issues near the end of my stay in Stanwood. Then it was off to retirement.
MY NOTES: Reading, Conference Secretary, Volunteer Work, such as Primetimers and driving people to medical appointments, plus Gardening.
We spent the first eight years of our retirement in a lovely home with a view. In 2016 we move to Wesley: Lea Hill in Auburn, Washington. For a while I did some driving for Catholic Charities, but it got too complicated.
The Bishop recruited me as the Pacific Northwest Conference Secretary in 2008 and I served for four years. He asked me right after giving Barbara the Bishop’s Award for her work in the conference. Not a good time to say no.
Other retirement activities has included reading, traveling and gardening. I operated an u-pick dahlia garden (400 plants) in Stanwood and now in Auburn I have two garden plots in a community garden, growing miniature pumpkins for Barbara. One of our churches also recruited me to establish a dahlia garden on their property.
There are four churches that occasionally ask me to preach on a regular basis. Otherwise, I enjoy listening to others.